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Celtics marred by poor late-game execution in first loss of the season to Timberwolves

The Celtics fell to the Timberwolves in overtime after having more turnovers (4) than made field goals (2) in the final six minutes. 

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

With 3:34 to go in overtime in Minnesota, the Celtics led 105-103 and looked to remain the only undefeated team in the NBA. Then, Anthony Edwards took over.

In less than two minutes, the 22-year-old Edwards stole the ball from Jayson Tatum, assisted on a Mike Conley three-pointer, and went on a personal 6–0 that included three mid-range jumpers to put the game out of reach for Boston and secure a Timberwolves victory.

The Celtics, who had plenty of opportunities to win this one — both in regulation and in overtime — were handed their first loss of the season. Anthony Edwards (38 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) walked away looking like the best player on the floor, and Boston’s offense was reminiscent of many late-game collapses last season.

In the final minute of regulation and overtime, the team combined for four turnovers and hit just two field goals — a Holiday put-back layup to start OT and a Tatum breakaway dunk with 36 seconds to spare.

Kristaps Porzingis was largely uninvolved in the offensive actions, despite consistent emphasis from coaches and players alike that his versatility would provide the team a much-needed curveball for its late-game offense. Tatum finished the game with a season-high six turnovers.

“I just had too many turnovers,” Tatum said. “I had way too many turnovers. I gotta be better. We all gotta be better, but especially me. Clean those up in late game situations for sure. We played hard, we competed, so a lot of things on the offensive end we can learn from. Late game, our communication could be better, knowing where certain guys are going to be. Just some little things that we can clean up.”

After Anthony Edwards missed a three, the game was tied with 11 seconds to go in regulation, and Jaylen Brown, dribbling up, admitted he didn’t know if the team had a timeout. He ended up getting a good look at a step-back three that just fell short, and the game went to overtime.

“I made the first move, guy kind of fell back, the three opened up and [it] missed short,” Brown said. “I hit that shot, and we go home. Miss that shot, a team that’s already rolling goes into overtime with a lot of momentum. [I’ve] got to knock those down.”

The Timberwolves defense affected Boston, who entered the game with the league’s best offense. The Celtics finished the game shooting a season-low 39.1% from the field and 28.2% from three to go along with 16 turnovers.

“We were running our offense a little bit further than we would like to,” Joe Mazzulla said. “Just their activity and their ability not to get screened slowed our offense down. And then, Edwards is in foul trouble and we tried to isolate him, and I thought he did a good job defending us.”

Brown echoed Mazzulla’s sentiments. “They were pressuring the flow and space, so it’s hard to get to certain actions when the ball pressure is up the floor that high,” Brown said. “It’s something that they did a good job at, and we’ll look at it and learn from those moments. At that moment [at the end of regulation], it was just, ‘go make a play.’ I got a good look, fell short.”

Anthony Edwards played with five fouls for most of the fourth quarter and entire overtime period, but held up well when he was hunted defensively. His biggest defensive play came when he stripped the ball from Tatum early in overtime, resulting in a jump ball that the Timberwolves ultimately won.

“Luckily, he [Tatum] called me up for an iso and tried to iso me, and I’m like, ‘I play defense, I just got five fouls’,” Edwards said. “So I had to show him I could play defense.”

Porzingis and Holiday both had their least efficient offensive outings in green; Holiday finished with 12 points on 4-16 shooting, while Porzingis finished with 20 on 5-14 field goals.

Tatum (32 points, 12-22 FG) and Brown (26 points, 10-21 FG) both had solid offensive nights, but relied on difficult shots to put points on the board.

“We made some tough shots tonight as well, but the goal is to get some easy ones, and I feel like we didn’t get enough easy ones tonight,” Brown said.

Mazzulla and Tatum both maintained the team competed hard, despite the less-than-stellar late-game execution.

“That was a hell of a game,” Mazzulla said. “It was a lot of fun, it was very competitive, and our opponents are always going to bring the best out of us. I thought we competed at a high level, I thought their defensive toughness outmatched our offensive toughness at times.”

After the game, Mazzulla was asked about the decision to not call timeouts, both at the end of regulation and when Anthony Edwards began to take over in overtime. The Celtics’ only timeout of the period came when the team was down by five with 16 seconds left.

“When it’s a five-point game with two minutes to go [in overtime], there’s no reason to call a timeout,” Mazzulla said. “You get organized, you run a set, you get a basket. There’s plenty of game left.”

This time, the Celtics didn’t show the same signs of growth in their late-game execution that were evident in wins earlier against New York and Miami.

Part of that may have had to do with the absence of Derrick White, who remains out after the birth of his child and is a calming and experienced presence on this roster. Part of that may have had to do with Minnesota’s defensive pressure, unrivaled by the other teams the Celtics have faced so far this season.

And part of that may have just been the heroics of Anthony Edwards.

“He’s a great player,” Mazzulla said. “He’s going to make shots. I thought he made some difficult ones.”

Jayson Tatum called Edwards one of his favorite players in the NBA. Jaylen Brown described Edwards, who he considers a close friend, “one of the young stars, faces of our league.”

Last night, Edwards showed out. Tomorrow, the Celtics will try to put away another quality opponent when they face Philadelphia.

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